While injuries can permanently set back an athlete, Marcus Bridger-Wilkinson took the opportunity to come back stronger than before.
His efforts proved successful as he now shares this year’s Bruins’ Choice Male Athlete of the Year honors with fellow team member Matt Miller.
Bridger-Wilkinson suffered an inch-long tear in the cartilage around his hip in June of 2012. The injury caused Bridger-Wilkinson to miss most of the 2013 season.
“I just slipped training and it ripped. I thought it was just a muscular strain,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I kept on training and it just got worse and worse. They couldn’t diagnose it and I eventually had surgery in February of 2013.”
The surgery had Bridger-Wilkinson walking on crutches for four weeks after and it took about six weeks for him to walk normally again. From there, he spent months working with trainers from Vanderbilt to get back into shape. The injury took about a year in total to fully rehabilitate.
“I started running again in May. I would do about one minute of running for every two minutes of walking,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I built that up by September to about 30 miles per week.”
The return to running was not completely smooth as Bridger-Wilkinson occasionally struggled with keeping fit while recovering. This struggle came to a head in October 2013 during a race at the University of Notre-Dame.
“I ran really badly. I was probably one of the slowest people out there,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I never really considered giving up, but it definitely crossed my mind. It just didn’t seem worth it after a while.”
The race at Notre Dame served as a wake-up call for Bridger-Wilkinson as he refocused his training efforts and used the still-recovering injury and the rehab he was going through to motivate himself to improve his performance.
“I only have this season and next to do what I want to do, which is qualify for Nationals. Not being able to train, not being able to compete and seeing everyone else compete spurred me on to do better,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I now have the experience of what it’s like not to run and it has driven me forward to do more.”
This season, Bridger-Wilkinson has come back from his injury in top form and has won two OVC gold medals so far. He has also broken three school records, including the indoor mile record with a time of 4 minutes, 9.08 seconds at the OVC Indoor Championships.
Bridger-Wilkinson also broke the school records for the outdoor 1500-meter and the indoor 3000-meter.
“It was a big surprise. I knew I was in okay shape, but I didn’t know I was in record-breaking shape,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I think the biggest shock was in Alabama a few weeks ago when I ran my first 1500-meter and I ran a school record.”
While the Newbury, England, native makes his impact for Belmont this season and moves on from the injury that kept him away from competition for a year, he also has an eye on the future and what it might bring.
“Once I get home, I plan to do the British Trials and after that I’ll probably take some time off,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “Next year, breaking 4 minutes in the mile is a big goal of mine.”
Bridger-Wilkinson has also considered going semi-pro after college, though he says that will depend on his performance during his upcoming senior year.
“I’m not quite at that level yet,” said Bridger-Wilkinson. “I need to take at least three or four seconds off my personal record, but it’s something I’d definitely consider if things were going well.”
Photo courtesy of Belmont Athletics